MANCHESTER – The members of St. Bridget Parish in Manchester welcomed a family of eight from a refugee camp in Tanzania at the end of May.
Originally from the Congo, the mother and seven children, ranging in age from 5 to 16, will move into an apartment on Franklin Avenue in Hartford that St. Bridget parishioners furnished and set up for them.
The family was one of 360 families approved for resettlement through Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Hartford this year, a number that has increased by 60 to accommodate the potential for Syrian refugees.
Catholic parishes in Rocky Hill, Southington and Branford, among others, are also in the process of joining with Catholic Charities or other organizations, such as the New Haven-based Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, to assist in resettling refugees.
“We are following the message from Pope Francis, and Archbishop Blair, who asked every parish in the world to adopt a family and take care of them as our family,” said Father Marcin Pluciennik, pastor of St. Bridget Parish. “I am so grateful as a pastor for the many people who stood up and came to me with this idea. Together we want to help people who are in need.”
John Ryan, a pastoral associate at St. Bridget who works in the area of social justice, said he was also approached by parishioners. “This started because several people came to me and said we need to do something about these Syrian refugees,” he explained. “It was a half a dozen independent conversations with parishioners. These people said, ‘Okay, what’s the next step?’”
After speaking to representatives from Catholic Charities and learning about refugees in need that arrive in Connecticut from many different countries – including Burma, Nepal, Somalia, Iraq, Syria and the Congo – Mary Billias, a co-leader of the St. Bridget Refugee Resettlement Ministry team, said the parishioners at St. Bridget were ready to sponsor a family from any of these countries. “We said, ‘We want the next family you have coming.’”
Both Mr. Ryan and Mrs. Billias said St. Bridget has a history of welcoming refugees. It supported three Laotian refugee families in the 1970s during the Cambodian strife. “We did everything from childcare to transportation to language,” Mrs. Billias said. “Now Catholic Charities has a program in place and does a lot.”
On April 19, three representatives from Catholic Charities’ Migration, Refugee and Immigration Services (MRIS) met with approximately 60 parishioners from both St. Bridget and St. Bartholomew in the St. Bridget School cafeteria to explain the partnership process, the responsibility of the agency, and the role of the parish.
According to Jama Ahmed, assistant director of MRIS and a case manager, there are 19 million refugees worldwide with 11 million to 15 million living in refugee camps. Some have been living in camps for anywhere between 4 and 20 years, said Paula Mann-Agnew, director of programs at MRIS. Those who arrive in the United States have gone through background, security and medical checks that can take years, Mr. Ahmed said.
To make their way to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Hartford, the family must be approved by the State Department, referred to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Office of Migration and Refugee Services and then be assigned to Catholic Charities.
Then the local Catholic Charities MRIS staff takes over.
“The model at Catholic Charities is a church-family partnership that’s faith-based and rooted in Matthew 25. It’s a true partnership where we divide up the tasks,” Ms. Mann-Agnew explained. “Jobs, English and medical needs are our responsibility but you make decisions on how to help us. If we pull together, we can get it done.”
The end goal is self-sufficiency for the family, she stressed.
Once the family arrives, a case manager who speaks the family’s language meets the family at the airport and takes them to an apartment in Hartford. Hartford is the community of choice at this time due to the agency’s relationship with landlords, its proximity to Catholic Charities offices and convenient public transportation, Ms. Mann-Agnew said.
The next day, the case manager visits the family and provides them with a small sum of cash and takes them shopping for food and clothes, Mr. Ahmed said. Within five days, the case manager helps the family members obtain Social Security cards and sign up for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and puts the children in English as a Second Language classes. Within 30 days, the family has medical checkups and the children are enrolled in school. The agency also tries to find employment for family members within 120-180 days.
While the most intensive support happens in the first 180 days, Mrs. Mann-Agnew said, the agency works with families to not only obtain their green card but also helps them to obtain citizenship within five years.
To assist in the church-family partnership, parishioners can donate furniture, appliances and bedding; drive family members to medical appointments; teach them how to ride a bus and navigate the city; tutor the children; or simply act as a mentor family and spend time with them. Parishioners can also provide health workshops and professional services or training.
According to Father Pluciennik, St. Bridget Parish has already received an anonymous $1,000 donation to purchase necessities for its refugee family.
Parishioners of St. Bridget shared their reasons for stepping up to partner with a refugee family.
“I just feel I’m very blessed with my family, with a bed and a roof over my head, and I feel it’s our place to share,” said Cathy Hastings, a member of the St. Bridget Refugee Resettlement Ministry. “I’m not even sure how I’m going to be able to help, but I’ll find my little niche. If nothing else, I’ll be a driver.”
Kim Maysonet, an eighth grade teacher at St. Bridget School who attended the meeting, said, “It just spoke to me – the idea that we’re all one human family, and I’d just like to reach out to help.
“I also want my children to see outside of themselves and be part of this,” Mrs. Maysonet added. “We’re an amazing family, and we can offer love and companionship to everyone.”
Parishes interested in partnering with Catholic Charities to help resettle a refugee family in the City of Hartford can contact Paula Mann-Agnew at email@example.com.